Autism is a spectrum of disorders (ASD) affecting an estimated one in 166 children. 5-17% of children with autism have learning disabilities, and 3-5% has attention deficit disorders, yet up to 90% of children with autism have delays in the development of visual skills.
Typical Visual Patterns Associated with Autism
70% or more of children with autism have poor binocular skills, and difficulty moving and focusing the eyes to avoid blur or double vision. Most children with autism have 20/20 eyesight; however, atypical visual patterns interfere with the ability to make eye contact and interact with the child’s surroundings.
Vision Behaviors in Autism often result from a poor integration of central and peripheral vision. Visual stimulations are attempts at “jump-starting” faulty visual function. Poor eye contact shows that the visual system is overloaded and that the brain is not coping. Vision behaviors in autism include:
- Squints or closes an eye, pushes or rubs eyes
- Stares at certain objects or patterns
- Looks through hands
- Flaps hands, flicks objects in front of eyes
- Looks at objects sideways or with quick glances
- Sensitive to light (photophobic)
- Fearful of depth changes on ground or on stairways
- Has difficulty making eye contact
- Bumps into objects
- Holds onto walls or furniture while walking
These behaviors are a result of poor visual tracking, abnormal eye movements, poor eye teaming, problems with visual perception and spatial awareness, and poor visual motor skills.
The visual system of children with autism often functions at the level of an infant. Vision development is erratic in a child with autism. This contributes to the child’s use of his tactile sense, rather than vision, to direct his brain which makes him inefficient since vision is a more efficient director and information processor. For example, an autistic child may not know that ice cream is cold without touching it; therefore, his world is confined to the objects within his grasp.
Vision problems can be treated with glasses and Vision Therapy to develop the visual skills necessary to support learning, socialization, and motor skills.
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder need a multi-faceted multi-disciplinary team approach to care. We work closely with psychologists, pediatricians, occupational therapists, and speech and language therapists to ensure they receive the proper care that they need.